District agencies are running a much-needed, but brief, sting operation today to enforce the laws against making U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Meanwhile, a number of readers have written in with worries that a pedestrian enforcement campaign is targeting the wrong people for the wrong behavior.



Reader @Akido37 tweeted this photograph, of a bus shelter ad the District Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Police Department have posted near Farragut Square warning pedestrians about a stepped-up enforcement campaign. He wrote, “Talk about blaming the victim.”

Certainly, pedestrians can do a lot to make themselves more safe, or take more risks. Walking while texting or reading emails removes one line of defense against a driver hitting a pedestrian.

On the other hand, pedestrians can suffer even when they do nothing wrong, but a driver’s attention lapses for moment. Some readers feel MPD is not doing enough about far more unsafe driver actions. Reader David Joseph wrote:

I walk this intersection twice a day and without fail drivers make illegal turns, pull into the crosswalk, or otherwise endanger pedestrians. I recently asked an MPD officer who was giving warnings to pedestrians why they werent talking to drivers who are the real danger. His answer was simply that they were given orders to talk to pedestrians and issue tickets for jay walking, and he was following those orders.


Ben Ross said in an email:

I work at that intersection, and the pedestrian signals there forbid pedestrians to make crossings that are absolutely safe.  You are told not to cross the turn lane on westbound 17th between the traffic island and the Red Line entrance even when traffic in the lane you are crossing has a red light.  You can only cross when the main part of K Street has a red light, which comes 32 seconds later. Obviously, no one waits to cross the turn lane when the cars are stopped in front of them.


In a similar vein, during a past enforcement campaign police stopped people crossing the one-lane side roadway of Connecticut Avenue at Q Street, where the main road passes under in an underpass. While not lawful, there are plenty of times when there are no cars approaching, or even a bus at the bus stop blocking the road entirely. It doesn’t advance safety to ticket people for crossing at these times.

Everyone should follow laws. The ideal solution to these problems would be to redesign the intersection to better accommodate pedestrians’ own needs and not forbid doing things that aren’t really dangerous. However, we’re not realistically going to change most of these intersections anytime soon.

With driver speeding, especially with the latest speed camera bill, we’ve made a decision to tolerate a certain amount of unlawful speeding (10 mph over the limit), and recently cut down on penalties for those who speed more. Mayor Gray also raised speed limits in a few places where many drivers, perhaps rightly at least in some cases, argued they were too low.

The District needs to focus on the most unsafe behavior. Sometimes, that’s pedestrian behavior, but more often it’s not. Do you think this campaign is blaming the victim? Or does it attack a real safety problem, and some people just don’t want to follow the law?

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.